Have you seen the new Microsoft spot from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the one with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates? It's got its funny moments, in a goofy Seinfeldian way, but otherwise constitutes one of the weirder chapters in advertising history.
It's the leading edge of a $300 million campaign with what would seem to be the following brief: Thanks to Apple, TBWA/Media Arts Lab and actor John Hodgman, founder Bill Gates is perceived as a harmless but clueless dork. This image has been projected against the entire Microsoft brand. Fix that.
If we were Microsoft, would stand pat. Hodgman may well have cemented the image of cluelessness in Apple's brilliant "Mac vs. PC" campaign, but he's also cemented harmlessness -- which is far more than this company deserves. Not only does Microsoft have a long history of anticompetitive bullying around the world, it has inflicted a succession of bug-infested, insecure and unstable versions of Windows, infamous for freezing, spontaneously closing and spiking user blood pressure for two decades.
With that dossier, "adorably unhip" is not a bad label to be stuck with.
But the client and agency apparently see things differently and are determined to prove to us that Bill Gates "gets it." To this end, he plays along with the gag, which pretty hilariously has the world's richest tech robber baron appear as a "platinum" discount-cardholder at the Shoe Circus down at the mall. Gates gamely sits there delivering straight lines after Seinfeld -- alarmed by the billionaire's struggle to fit into a pair of cheap "Conquistador" oxfords -- barges into the store to perform a citizen's fitting.
In the midst of the absurdity, we wade through all sorts of classically Seinfeld throwaway gags. (Jerry: "Ever wear clothes in the shower, Bill?" Bill: "Never." Jerry: "You're dressed, and you're clean. Open the door, go about your business.") Mainly, Gates' role is to look confused about the oddity swirling all around him, but in equally classic Seinfeld fashion, he is himself slowly sucked into Bizarro World. By the end of the spot, he is sauntering out of the mall with his new best friend, enjoying a warm churro, entertaining Seinfeld's questions about our computing future.
Jerry: "You now, I imagine over the years you've mind-melded your magnum Jupiter brain to those other Saturn-ringed brains at Microsoft."
Bill: "I have."
Jerry: "Just wondering ... are they ever going to come out with something that will make our computers moist and chewy like cake so we can just eat 'em while we're working? If it's yes, give me a signal, with just your shorts."
Whereupon Gates shimmies his butt "yes" to the camera.
Decent hip action, by the way. Seinfeld exults, and then the onscreen super adds a simple coda: "The Future. Delicious."
Wow. Computer-as-shopping-mall-churro is a long way to go for "delicious future." In fact, we strongly suspect the tagline is beside the point. Even if this campaign is about persuading us we can trust Microsoft to lead us forward, this introductory spot aims to do so by asking us to re-imagine Bill Gates. And, as to that, mission accomplished. Anyone seeing this ad will find it difficult to dismiss Gates as a harmless, clueless dork.
No siree. This man is not clueless. This is a dork with volition.
He intentionally wears his trademark fourth-grader's haircut. He intentionally goofs about edible computers. He intentionally shakes his booty for the world -- raising the question: If Gates really does get it, and his company is still trying to force Vista down our throats, is he really wiggling his fat billionaire ass for us?
Or at us?